|2015||Lo Mejor de la gastronomia||9.8 Points|
|2016||The Worlds 50 best by SP||2 Ranking|
|Value for money|
After The Astronomer and I left the sunny shores of Valencia, we hopped a train to Girona, where our only order of business was to dine at El Celler De Can Roca. Even though this was our third three-star Michelin meal in the span of two weeks, I eagerly anticipated it as if it were the first.
Founded in 1986, El Celler de Can Roca gives new meaning to the term “family restaurant.” The place is run by three brothers [Joan Roca heads up the kitchen, Josep Roca is the maitre d’ and head sommelier, and Jordi Roca is the pastry chef], but the food is far from homey, and the space is decidedly modern.
In 2007, the restaurant relocated a hundred meters from the original grounds. Here, the chefs work in a state-of-the-art kitchen cum lab, while the sommelier manages a wine cellar that offers customers an audio-visual journey through five key wine regions.
In the custom-built space, diners are treated to a gorgeous dining room with an abundance of natural light pouring in. The miniature arboretum in the center offers a tranquil and understated view. As The Astronomer and I settled into our table and perused the menu, we were served complimentary glasses of Cava (Finca Viladellops 08 D.O. Penedes).
Although we didn’t partake in any additional libations, it must be noted that the wine program is a large part of the El Celler De Can Roca experience. The collection of available vintages is so vast that it is cataloged across two volumes. These massive “wine lists” are delivered to diners on a cart! Amazing.
Our Menu Festival (130€) began with a thump. Seemingly out of nowhere, a little tree was set upon the table. I thought it was rather strange that the table decor arrived after the guests, but upon further inspection, I realized that things weren’t as they seemed.
Hooked onto the low hanging branches were anchovy-wrapped olives. Plucked from the tree and popped into our mouths, the salty bites were candied and crunchy. Olives are a quintessentially Spanish way to start a meal, and this clever twist made me smile with delight.
The amusing olives were followed by a steady stream of one bite wonders. The Campari bonbons, which resembled miniature water balloons, unleashed a flood of zesty orange liquid.
Black Sesame Cracker
Served nestled in a carved rock were black seasame crackers with cacao. The crackers shattered in our mouths with a complex sweetness.
Next, a plank of wood arrived with anchovy bones embedded into rice tempura. The presentation evoked thoughts of oceanic fossils from long ago. The texture was airy, while the flavor was distinct. It was incredible how the pungent and salty taste of anchovies was conveyed so strongly from the bones alone.
Truffled Brioche with Pot Au Feu Broth
The penultimate amuse bouche was a round of truffle brioche served with a delicate Pot au Feu Broth. Topped with white truffle shavings and filled with a similarly earthy liquid, the brioche paired like a charm with the simple soup.
St. George’s Mushroom Omelette
Lastly, a deconstructed take on a traditional British dish: St. George’s Mushroom Omelette. It was comprised of a thick eggy sphere filled with liquid caviar paired with a sweet and fruity St. George’s mushroom sphere.
Oyster with Fino Sherry Escabeche, Seaweed, and Oyster Sauce
I probably should have divided this pristine oyster into two or three bites, but it looked so damn enticing that I killed it in one fell swoop. The texture was awesomely firm and the flavor was pure and grit-less.
Pumpkin, Rock Mussels, and Mandarin Orange
The magic lasted a little longer with the mussels, which were bathed in a broth of Mandarin orange juice. The artfully shaped plate proved helpful in spooning up every last bit of the terrific sauce.
After a slew of innovative dishes, I must admit that the bread selection was a let down. White, wheat, and multi-grain are fine options, but definitely a yawn in comparison to the earlier courses. Alinea will always hold a special place in my heart because their “bread pairings” were as interesting and thoughtful as the rest of their offerings. Score one for American molecular gastronomy!
Charcoal Grilled Prawns
The grilled prawns was one of my favorite courses because I have a weakness for barely cooked flesh, savory powders, and slurp-able shrimp heads. The best element of the shrimp-laced powder was the crunchy shards of antennae. I loved how the powder melted on my tongue, leaving behind only the essence of shrimp.
Onion Soup, Crespia Walnuts, and Comte Cheese
I assure you that this dish was quite the beauty, but I didn’t manage to snap a pre-dousing shot. Before our waiter poured the cheese and walnut soup table-side, we were presented with bowls accented with caramelized onions, walnut bread, and fennel leaves. The soup was intensely rich, creamy, and brimming with bright notes of cheese and onions. It was the perfect French onion soup as rethought by a Spanish man.
Sole, Olive Oil, and Mediterranean Flavors
I am rarely thrilled by cooked fishes these days, but this sole was seriously awesome. In fact, I scribbled in my notebook that it was the “best fish dish ever!” The flaky fillet was paired with five olive oil emulsions including (starting from the top) green olive, pinenuts, orange, bergamont, and fennel. It was like having five different dishes in one, which was kind of perfect for an easily bored palate like mine. My two favorites were the green olive sauce that was accented with an olive oil-filled candy and the citrusy bergamont.
Red Mullet with Susquet (Catalan Seafood Stew) and Lard
Just when I thought that things couldn’t possibly get any tastier, we were served Red Mullet with strikingly supple and translucent flesh. The fish was served in a sauce similar to bouillabaisse along with weighty potatoes that reminded me of gnocchi.
Veal Tendons with Sea Anemone
Moving from fishes to meats, we were presented with a plate that encompassed both the land and sea. From the ocean were lightly battered and fried anemones that tasted like a salt-less sea with a texture similar to oysters. From the land were hunks of jellified veal tendons that coated my throat stickily. The anise-laced sauce tied both elements together.
Steak Tartare with Mustard Ice Cream (2009 Adaptation)
Another dish that I thoroughly adored was the steak tartare. Dotted with capers and mustard ice cream, the steak was topped with a plethora of flavors including a Bearnaise sauce and airy chips dusted with chives, lemon curry, paprika, and Szechuan peppercorn. Just like the sole that preceded it, this course tasted like five different dishes in one.
Lamb, Peas, and Mint
The final savory course was a hunk of perfectly cooked lamb served with goat cheese and pea purees, minty accents, and topped with jerky crisps. This dish didn’t have as many wow-inducing elements as some of the others, but it was solidly executed and tasty as heck.
To transition from savories to sweets was a lemon distillate sorbet with lemon cream, lemon gel, tiny verbena cakes, mint flowers, and a honey crisp. It was floral, fragrant, and fresh.
Continuing with the theme of floral, fragrant, and fresh was a rose souffle with litchi sorbet foam. The souffle had the lightest texture and an ideal hint of rose.
And finally, a dessert that was inspired by the color orange. The centerpiece was a carrot compote filled with egg yolk ice cream and apricot eau-de-vie. The flavors reminded me of caramelized flan. Orange sugar, lemon drops, and pieces of blood orange rounded out the plate. It was literally and figuratively refreshing to finish with a vegetable-based dessert rather than a predictable chocolate one.
Our meal ended with warm tea and little chocolates. The hazelnut praline with poprocks was The Astronomer’s favorite, while I fancied the vanilla taronja (orange) with almond paste.
From beginning to end, El Celler De Can Roca delivered a thoughtful and delicious meal with just enough punches to keep me excited. It provided the perfect ending for my tour of Spanish molecular gastronomy temples [See also: Akelarre and Arzak]. It will be exciting to see in the future which of Spain’s cutting-edge techniques and philosophies will make its way across the Atlantic and into America’s dining rooms.
Ditemi, trovate qualcosa di strano nel prendere un aereo con l’unico conclamato scopo di andare a cena in un luogo lontano?
Forse prima avrei potuto pensarla così. Confesso anche che non è stato facile spiegare ad alcune persone che andavo a Girona (e non a Barcellona) unicamente per mangiare (e, fortunatamente, anche per bere). Ho incrociato sguardi compassionevoli e mi sono misurato con interminabili ed eloquentissimi silenzi all’altro capo della cornetta. Ma ne è valsa la pena.
Un viaggio ridicolo nel prezzo (6 euro il volo Bergamo/Girona) ma insperatamente perfetto ci ha condotti in una piccola città a dir poco incantevole. Case multicolori a picco sul fiume hanno salutato il nostro passaggio accogliendo i nostri sguardi provinciali ancora una volta impressionati, dobbiamo ammetterlo, non solo dalla varietà e bellezza delle cattedrali ma dall’onnipresente gusto per l’architettura e le installazioni contemporanee che sorgono inaspettate e armoniose aiutate dal piglio cortese di un popolo che di sensibilità moderna ne ha da vendere.
Accostate le orecchie alla meditabonda tranquillità del quartiere ebraico abbiamo oziato attendendo la sera. Non potrò mai scordare l’espressione ansiosa del mio compare, lo sguardo fisso nel vuoto oltre il bendidio delle tapas, in mano quel che resta di un bicchiere di Cava e i cinque sensi protesi a controllare l’impercettibile trascorrere del tempo nell’estenuante tossica attesa che si compisse l’ora X e la cucina di un certo ristorante aprisse (per la cronaca alle 21.00).
Come un alpino in trincea trascorre i minuti precedenti all’ordine del previsto assalto smarrito in pensieri adrenalinici dei quali ignora inizio fine e forse ogni senso compiuto, così il tossico Patatone farfugliava nomi di chef, ristoranti e prestigiose stelle smarrendo inesorabilmente il filo del discorso. Io, indeciso se fare finta di nulla o avvertire le autorità per un rapido t.s.o. che indubbiamente gli avrebbe giovato, mi trastullavo compiendo il madornale errore di cedere alle sirene delle tapas, fragranti quanto inopportune tentatrici. Momenti di tensione sciolti come neve al sole allo scoccare delle nove quando come il più classico degli automi il mio degno compare si è alzato in piedi ed ha iniziato letteralmente a correre in direzione del Celler. (che da basche istruzioni impartiteci dalla fruttivendola locale pare si pronunci “sellier”)
L’ingresso al Celler De Can Roca è stata un’esperienza quasi mitologica della quale ricordo solo pochi frammenti intervallati da improvvisa ed inspiegabile emozione che ho potuto smaltire solamente quando, scivolato sulla sedia, mi sono guardato intorno ed ho pensato di essere finito nel posto giusto.
Con indicibile soddisfazione ho soppesato uno degli ambienti più raffinati mai incontrati prima. In quella cattedrale discreta di vetro e legno, osservando la notte fuori e la perfetta penombra interna interrotta solo dove serve, e cioè sul piatto, da illuminazioni sobriamente decise, ho faticato non poco a comprendere il perfetto turbinare di camerieri ai quali, estasiato, rispondevo male e a monosillabi. Inspiegabilmente Patatone, abbandonata l’idea di lanciarsi con i compagni di battaglione nell’offensiva sul Carso, era visibilmente a suo agio tranquillo e compiaciuto nelle sue guance rubizze d’ordinanza.
Arrivano le tapas accompagnate da un buon bicchiere di Cava offerto senza ambiguità (così tanto per risolvere l’annoso problema del costo dell’aperitivo). Abbiamo graziosi cracker al sesamo nero, carote col tartufo ottimamente presentate ma decisamente dimenticabili e divertenti olive caramellizzate.
Tanto per fare subito ottima impressione in un locale di livello per giunta oltreconfine, agitato com’ero, acchiappo l’oliva nera per il codazzo zuccherino che, a metà della corsa per la mia bocca si spezza depositando il tutto, elegantemente, sul tappeto. Non faccio però in tempo a tentare un sobrio rimedio che già un solerte cameriere, senza nulla proferire, ha distintamente provveduto levandomi da ogni imbarazzo. Capisco tra l’ilarità sardonica del mio commensale che è ora di rasserenarmi.
Giunge, al proposito, la carta dei vini o dovremmo dire la cariola – espositore in cui sono contenuti i tre volumi enciclopedici con i beveraggi. Li sfogliamo con interesse insieme al menu ben sapendo che tanto il nostro destino per la serata prevede il menu festival (una luculliana marcia a tappe forzate) con accompagnamento al calice (che avrà dell’incredibile).
La parentesi sul pane è d’obbligo. Avete presente quei ristoranti in cui il pane viene servito da un unico cestone da un cameriere azzimato che ti guarda come per dire: “mica sarai venuto QUI per mangiare del pane?” e si volatilizza dopo un’unica passata in cui, per educazione, ti sei pure limitato per far vedere che tu non sei di quei contadini che vengono LI’ per mangiare il pane (che poi invece lo sei..)? Avete presente? Ecco questo NON è proprio quel caso. Per prima cosa il pane è esageratamente buono (e bello). Poi viene servito sì da un cestone ma per mano di una splendida ragazza che ripete il giro ogni volta da un tuo movimento di ciglia possa anche solo lontanamente sembrare tu abbia voglia di pane. Magnifico.
Se poteva non bastare l’apparecchiata di tapas, ecco altri “snacks”. Dobbiamo ancora incominciare e già questi, per gusto e complessità, valgono il viaggio. Ininziamo con una “sferificazione di tartufo di mare con succo di guava e campari” nel quale, se posso permettermi, la guava e il campari sovrastano eccessivamente il sapore del tartufo di mare.
Proseguiamo con una incredibile meraviglia: crema di carciofo, foie gras e tartufo. Cosa volere di più? Concludiamo gli appetizer con bombon di piccione con “bristol cream” (uno sherry prodotto in inghilterra). Molto complesso ma sicuramente sublime.
E’ giunta l’ora di cominciare con il menu. L’inizio è sorprendente. Un piatto di tecnica impareggiabile: “ricci di mare con cavolfiore e arance”. Pietanza con un equilibrio a dir poco sorprendente, uno sfoggio di capacità da rimanere basiti, accompagnato in grande scioltezza dall’ottimo riesling Im Sonnenchein 05 Pfalz.
Dopo una tale meraviglia ci vuole un piatto di transizione. Ecco allora i maccheroni di cannolicchi al pesto. Presentazione indubbiamente magistrale, un profumo di basilico sorprendente ma il tutto risulta penalizzato dalle consistenze un po’ troppo gommose (se posso permettermi eh?!). L’accompagnamento è però a dir poco azzeccato. L’Herrenberg 98 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer si sposa con l’aroma ed il gusto del basilico in un matrimonio da favola. E la nostra soddisfazione è in crescita verso livelli orgasmici.
Ed ora un piatto straordinario al limite dell’incredibile: la celeberrima ostrica allo Chablis (c’è anche la variante al Cava). Una sinestesia smaccatamente complessa in cui, ad ogni pescata di cucchiaio si possono individuare differenti sfumature di gusto. Non sono in grado davvero di descrivere gli innumerevoli camaleontici capovolgimenti di sapori che si alternano nel piatto. Tanta travolgente complessità è fortunatamente accompagnata da un abbinamento questa volta semplice, ma non meno azzeccato. Il Gran Regnard 06 A.O.C. Chablis supporta in modo splendido una portata decisamente fuori dal comune.
Proseguiamo senza indugi con qualcosa di più semplice. Nulla è lasciato al caso. Dopo un piatto complesso come il precedente, in grado di stimolare i sensi quasi spossandoli alla faticosa ricerca delle varie e complesse sfumature ecco qualcosa di tranquillo, rassicurante. Un po’ di riposo finalmente che può permetterci anche di scambiare due chiacchiere con il nostro commensale, rompendo quel mistico e adorante silenzio calato improvvisamente alla mantecatura dell’ostrica. Cappuccino di castagne e tartufo. Semplice e piacevolissimo anche per chi, come me, non impazzisce per le castagne. Non può mancare un bel vino in abbinamento: Agustì Torellò D.O. Cava. Una bollicina a questo punto è certamente gradita.
Alberi al centro del locale. Un tocco di classe senza tempo.
Parmentier di olive verdi, ovvero l’insalata russa secondo i Roca. Presentazione spettacolare con una bella sfera da rompere audacemente col cucchiaio. Di più non so dirvi perché io ODIO l’insalata russa. Ed è così che posso dire di aver rimandato indietro un piatto a Joan Roca (si scherza eh!). Il mio fugace assaggio, oltre ad aver confermato che in effetti stranamente il tutto sapeva di insalata russa, mi ha permesso di apprezzare un altro magistrale abbinamento. Il Manzanilla Pasada La Bota n. 10 D.O. San Lucar de Barrameda, qualunque cosa sia, calzava a pennello.
Non c’è nulla da fare, la cucina non ci dà tregua. Arriva l’ennesimo capolavoro. Una cupola di vetro con una nuvola di fumo all’interno (manca la foto ed è un vero peccato ma ci hanno colti di sorpresa). Una mano provvidenziale toglie la cupola ed una voce annuncia “soufflè di tartufo” mostrando, appena dissipata la nebbia, lo spettacolo che vedete. Siamo in sollucchero. Il profumo di carbone, fumo e tartufo avvolge e sconvolge i nostri sensi già provati da troppe sfide e disabituati a tante sollecitazioni in un’unica esperienza. Il merito di questa creazione assurdamente buona è di abbinare il gusto ed il profumo di tartufo a sapori e odori assolutamente nuovi ed originali. Ancora una volta accostamenti fantasiosi idee libere degne di un paese libero ed aperto al futuro. Quasi dimenticavo l’abbinamento: Mas Julien blanc 02 Vin du Pays de l’Hèrault. Meraviglioso come riesca a rimanere sullo sfondo dei sapori, accompagnandoli senza mai sovrastarli ma nemmeno perderli di vista.
Non poteva mancare un assaggio di baccalà. Per carità potevamo offenderci. E allora baccalà con zuppa di pane, pepe rosso e fagioli bianchi. Sapete una cosa? E’ straordinario come Joan Roca riesca a stupire con piatti arditi e tecnicamente complicatissimi ed a servire, un secondo dopo, una pietanza semplice come questa, preparata in modo impeccabile, gustosissima e non meno appagante delle precedenti. Ci sono chef che si spingono costantemente al limite dell’impossibile, altri trovano le loro sfide nella maniacale semplificazione. I Roca semplicemente fanno perfettamente l’uno e l’altro. Cosa ci beviamo col baccalà? Ma sì un bel La Cima 03 D.O. Ribera Sacra è quello che ci vuole.
Ma non possiamo perder tempo in considerazioni, perchè sta arrivando un’altro colpo da KO.
Ventresca di capretto con velatura di latte di capra e latte di pinoli è l’ennesimo capolavoro. Non solo consistenze perfette, non solo magistrale equilibrio, ma gusto estatico. Ammettiamolo, la fame sta rapidamente scemando (siano maledette le tapas) ma questa portata termina in un secondo e non ci resta che sorseggiare malinconicamente il calice di Aalto 05 D.O. Ribera del Duero.
E non finisce qui. C’è ancora la “Lepre Royal” con crema di barbabietole ed aria di terra da assaggiare. In una parola: potente. Sapori nettissimi, rinforzati dalla sapiente, anche se non originalissima, aggiunta del foie gras che trova immancabile equilibrio nella crema di barbabietole. Sull’aria di terra rimango perplesso. Forse ero eccessivamente satollo per giudicare. Ovviamente il calice di Lèoville Barton 98 A.O.C. Saint-Julien fa il suo lavoro in maniera egregia.
Un’immagine assai eloquente che tratteggia senza equivoci l’importanza che nel nostro percorso è stata riservata al vino.
Quando vedo arrivare il torrone di foie gras mi sento come il grande Fantozzi che assiste all’apparizione di San Pietro sulla traversa nel mezzo della attesissima e catastrofica sfida calcistica scapoli-ammogliati. Comprendo anch’io con un poco di sollievo che la fine si sta avvicinando. Non fraintendetemi ma ripensando a quanto ingurgitato finora comprenderete che i miei sensi erano oramai prossimi al collasso.
Ho assaggiato il mio torroncino con il “cremonesco” rigore di chi è unicamente interessato ad apprezzare l’assaggio senza avere alcun interesse a riempire lo stomaco. Il risultato è stato comunque di grande potenza. L’ennesimo shock contornato di fegato grasso (che probabilmente verrà fornito al ristorante in apposite betoniere vista la disinvoltura nell’utilizzo). Mi sento di tranquillizzare chiunque possa ritenere che il massiccio utilizzo del nobile ingrediente sia tale da risultare eccessivo. Patatone che non ne va matto ha trangugiato il suo torrone con una voracità da far invidia a un affamato. Poteva il famoso torrone giungere solo? Giammai! Ecco infatti un bel calice di Ino Masia Serra D.O.Empordà.
Confesso che ero un po’ perplesso riguardo alla mirabolante idea avanzata da Jordi Roca di traspondere i profumi famosi in dessert. Temevo tutto si riducesse in uno sfoggio di tecnica fine a se stesso per giunta condito, in sottofondo, da un onnipresente terrore di insuccesso. Invece annusando e assaggiando e riannusando (e così via…) la fragranza adattata: CH by Carolina Herrera (hai detto Carneade?) ho pensato che tutto sommato sì questo è uno sfoggio del tutto narcisistico di tecnica. Però mirabolante impareggiabile e, vi dirò, entusiasmante. La trasposizione lascia aperti molti spunti di riflessione che cercherò di colmare in prossime visite ove tenterò di giungere al dolce leggermente più in forma. Poteva mancare un vino con questo ennesimo capolavoro? Rislaner Auslese 2005 de Bassermann-Jordan Pfalz (più lungo è il nome più buono è il vino). Accompagna il dessert e anche il profumo.
E questo è veramente l’ultimo. Vaniglia, un nome breve ed eloquente per un dessert divertentissimo e decisamente dolce. Lo strato superiore è di zucchero filato (barbapapà in catalano. Ho detto al cameriere che da noi era il nome di un celebre vecchio cartone animato e penso abbia sorriso per circostanza) in mezzo the verde e poi gelato alla vaniglia. Sicuramente c’è dell’altro ma non ero più in grado di cogliere alcunchè. Ultimo calice: Oremus Tokaji Late Harvest 05.
Caffè e piccola pasticceria. Quest’ultima ben presentata e superba. Su tutti meritano particolare encomio i cioccolatini al Pedro Hidalgo Ximenez e quelli al Lagavulin. Poscia (come dice un vero gourmet) non ci facciamo mancare un bel calice di Rhum Saint James agricolo e decisamente invecchiato (quando leggerete il costo nel dettaglio non ci crederete).
Concedetemi ora una piccola riflessione. La cucina dei Roca è impressionante per tecnica, equilibrio e fantasia. Credo però che su tutto debba essere menzionata quella che ritengo sia la grande peculiarità di questo ristorante. La forza vincente dei Roca, oltre alle indubbie e già ricordate capacità dei singoli, è il fatto di essere tre fratelli che lavorano veramente assieme in un team. Non fraintendetemi, non c’è nulla di morale o latamente aziendalistico nel mio discorso. Prendete ad esempio un grande chef. Passa ore in cucina ed inventa un piatto meraviglioso. A questo punto arriva il sommelier e, magari aiutato dal nostro grande cuoco, abbina un vino adeguato. E proprio qui sta il punto. L’idea che mi sono fatto io (che ovviamente rimane una mia supposizione) è che MENTRE Jordi o Joan inventano un nuovo piatto Josef pensa al vino. In questo modo potrà anche accadere che la pietanza venga modificata perchè si adatti meglio al vino che l’accompagna. Dai Roca l’abbinamento si inserisce nel momento genetico del piatto, non è una fase successiva. Per questo qui si possono sperimentare abbinamenti al calice lungamente ponderati e tecnicamente perfetti. Ho reso l’idea?
A fine cena due chiacchiere veloci con i fratelli Roca, gentilissimi e cordiali. Alla nostra richiesta di visitare la cantina investono del compito un premuroso cameriere italiano che con grande competenza ci fa da Cicerone.
Il luogo è smisurato, quasi enorme. Vi si custodiscono più di 50.000 bottiglie tra cui spiccano veri e propri tesori. Tra gli scaffali è ben delineato un percorso che ad ogni stazione prevede la descrizione di un luogo di provenienza del vino addirittura accompagnata da immagini che scorrono lievi su appositi schermi.
Ad ogni regione è poi abbinata una sensazione tattile. Così, ad esempio, avremo sferette di metallo in cui affondare le mani per ricordare il perlage degli champagne, seta per ricordarci i riesling della zona del reno e sacchi con i vari terreni per famigliarizzare con i terroir francesi. Un percorso sinestetico audio-tattil-visivo che cerca, come un buon vino, di coinvolgere tutti i nostri sensi.
Il paziente Davide, nostra guida, ci fa transitare anche nelle cucine nelle quali ci illustra l’importanza del ciclo del pulito e di quello dello sporco. A proposito, ma quanto è ordinata questa cucina? Siamo sicuri che sia stata veramente utilizzata?
E per finire una vera chicca: l’angolo della cucina con lo studio privato dello chef. Il sancta sanctorum in cui vengono ideate tutte le meraviglie.
Di questa esperienza rimane infine, oltre all’enorme soddisfazione, la sicura certezza di aver cenato in un luogo che si colloca, a buon diritto, ai vertici della cucina europea.
Il conto: 2 Menù festival 230€, 2 accompagnamenti al calice 90€ , 2 acqua 8€, 2 caffè 5€, 2 Saint James 16€,
totale 349 + IVA al 7% = 373,43€.
Per leggere altri racconti delle nostre proverbiali mangiate…
There are three rocks on every table at el Celler de Can Roca, presumably one for each of the brothers Roca.
There’s Joan, the chef; Josep, the sommelier; and Jordi on pastries.
Together, they’ve built upon their family’s restaurant, where all three worked as youths, and made it one of the world’s most acclaimed dining destinations. Their food is “techno-emotional,” a constantly evolving cuisine that uses modern technology to invoke the past, to explore and trigger memory and to give it shape.
In January, I was one of six people at a corner table inside this restaurant in Girona, Spain. And there, I was invited to survey the landscape of my memory.
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The restaurant is breathtaking, a collision of old and new that visually embodies the brothers’ culinary philosophy.
Its current location is not its original. The brothers moved out of their former space into an old villa built in 1911, which they had been using as an off-site special events venue since 1992. The villa now houses the restaurant’s kitchen, a sprawling series of rooms lined with steel counters. To the villa was added a starkly modern lounge, cellar, and dining room – a sleek, triangular space with a glass-encased courtyard full of trees.
So, in a poetic way, diners experience in the present what comes out of the past.
Peaceful. Elegant. It’s one of the most beautiful and meaningfully designed restaurants I’ve ever seen.*
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The six of us agreed on the “Feast,” an eleven-course tasting menu (145€). We also agreed to supplement two dishes from the a la carte menu – the restaurant’s signature oyster dish and steak tartare. Half of us also wanted to try the goose a la royale (I among them) and the other half, a plate of young pigeon with anchovy sauce. So those two were added as well.
The wine knowledge represented at our table was pretty impressive. The wine list, a tome that came on its own cart, was passed around the table, first to The Godfather, an American; then The Civilian, a Frenchman; then to Vanparys, a Belgian; and finally, to Ingo, a German, who selected a very fine Riesling, of course. After the book made its tour, five bottles were called up and ordered accordingly.
So impressive were their selections that Josep complimented them, noting that he couldn’t have done a better job of matching wines to our food. And he was right. The wines that were poured couldn’t have been more appropriate, or amazing.
Here is our menu and the wines we had:
Sardine Bone Chips
Truffled Brioche and Pot au Feu Broth
Pigeon Parfait and Omelette
Oysters with Agusti Torello Cava (Supplement)**
Apple compote, ginger, pineapple, lemon confit, and spices.
Charcoal-grilled eggplant, pepper, onion, and tomato with anchovies and smoke of ember.
Foie gras soup with orange and truffled oil.
Charcoal-Grilled King Prawn
Acidulated mushroom juice.
Crespia walnuts and Comte cheese.
Olive Oil and Mediterranean Flavors
With onion rocks.
Suquet and lard.
Steak Tartare (Supplement)
Sweet potato and tangerine.
Young Pigeon (Supplement)
Anchovy sauce, black truffles.
Goose a la Royale (Supplement)
Beet and liver sauce.
Lime, avocado, green apple.
Lemon rind, perfume.
Vanilla, Caramel, Liquorice
Dried and caramelized black olives.
Esfera de Yuzu
Marshmallow de Cafe Irlandes
La Closerie Les Beguines
Dr. Burklin-Wolf Kirchenstuck, 2004
Raveneau Butteaux, Chablis Premier Crus, 2005
Dujac Clos de la Roche, Grand Cru, 2001
Clos Rougeard, “les Poyeux,” 2005
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If a chef cooks out of his childhood memory, and he does not share the same cultural background as his diners, how will his food be received? Will his intentions and references be lost in translation? This is the question that raced through my mind during this dinner, and in the days thereafter.
I did not grow up on the Costa Brava. I was not raised on tropical fruits, the freshest catch off the boats, escalivada, or the flavors of the Mediterranean. These do not spring out of my earliest and deepest memories.
And so, in many ways, I was eating at el Celler de Can Roca with a handicap, unable to more fully realize the nostalgia and familiarity with which the Rocas expressed themselves.
Was I reduced, then, to evaluating the meal solely on its technical merits, the lowest form of assessment?
No, I don’t think so.
For, in every childhood memory is comfort, a universal beacon that is recognized regardless of house and home, a bridge for all the gaps between kitchen and table. And isn’t the familiar comforting, and the comforting, familiar?
My meal at Cafe Boulud in May of last year is a rare example of how a chef’s ability to convey comfort turned a meal into a reverie of things past. That was a perfect storm of personal triggers that I dare not hope to be repeated with regularity for fear of perpetual disappointment.
So, what of my meal at the Rocas’s table? At its best, it was immensely comforting, wonderfully imaginative, and technically sound.
Did it trip a few memory chords? Yes.
What child knows not the soulful embrace of warm chicken soup? For our first course: a restoring bowl of “pot au feu” broth (it tasted more like chicken than beef), sided by a buttery ball of dough, slightly steeped in the broth and topped with shaved black truffles. It was a fancy matzoh ball soup. It was immensely comforting, unquestionably familiar.
Jordi Roca’s “Green Colourology,” a study in green, with avocados, limes, and green apples, was a fragrant and bright reminder of summer in winter – this was a limeade. But better. It was creamy. It was light. It was crisp. It was a big smile at the end of a heavy meal.
In fact, I would say that the pastries pulled the most familiar strings. There was a turn of vanilla ice cream that was so purely vanilla that it seemed to encompass and conjure every vanilla memory in my mind. And to its side, a collection of dried and caramelized black olives, boozy gelatin, and licorice that magically intensified the vanilla flavor even more. It was like eating vanilla beans straight out of the pod. It had legs.
And at the end of our meal, a box of candies, each one an authoritative expression of its kind: praline, palet d’or, Mont Blanc, and airy – almost frothy – marshmallows that tasted just like a shot of Irish coffee.
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Joan Roca reminded us of how many versions of steak tartare this world has seen. In his one strip of tender, chopped meat, he showed us four of them, each section having a different flavor, marked with a crisp, airy pomme souffle. The one common thread was pearls of mustard ice cream, which were strung over the whole. Together, it was complex. It was anthological. It was brilliant.
So was a strip of baby sole, the fillet flanked by five different flavors of the Mediterranean: fennel, almond, orange, piment, and olive oil. Even if I didn’t grow up with these flavors, Roca showed us how they were important to him. So clean and perfect was that fish – a sounding board and palette for the rainbow of colored sauces – so pure and simple were those flavors, that it was, above all else, a picture of respect.***
These two dishes, along with the goose a la royale, which I enjoyed for its texture more than its flavor, were my favorites. The little cake of goose meat was so velvety, so soft – so comforting. The civet sauce was clean and neat. I have no clue why the beet or foie gras sauces were on the plate – they added nothing but color.
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Our meal wasn’t without flaws. If I had two criticisms, it would be these:
First, some of the dishes were almost too rich to bear, even if they were delicious. The “onion” soup was like drinking demi glace with liquid cheese fortified by nuts. It was super strong, super cloying. So was the soup of foie gras, as you can imagine, poured over a thick artichoke puree and dotted with orange and truffled oils.**** Thankfully, both of these portions were reasonably sized.
Second, quite a few dishes were over-salted, including that onion soup. The young pigeon was, to me, inedibly so, totally obliterated by the anchovy sauce. The suquet – a form of a Catalan stew used here as a sauce – was nearly as bad, though thankfully, the stunning filet of mullet, with iridescent, pink skin, stuffed with even saltier lardo, helped temper things a bit with its clean, almost sweet, white flesh.
And, along the same lines, there was very little subtlety. Flavors tended to be bold, gripping, strong. My admiration and patience for such things end when they start stripping away dimension, leaving blocks of monotone. And much of our meal flirted with the limit.
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Service was great, the pacing was perfect. Josep came to our table throughout the night, making sure everything was in good order.
After dinner, he introduced us to his brother Joan. Then he took us back into the restaurant’s celebrated cellar, where we passed row upon endless row of inventory. To one side of the corridor were small tasting rooms, constructed out of wine crates. I’m fairly certain that a couple of them were devoted to cigars.
And finally, into the kitchen, which had been cleaned and cleared – not a soul to be found.
I left el Celler de Can Roca more flattered than floored. It was, for the most part, a very solid meal with delicious high points, and some dishes that could have been spared.
But, more importantly, this meal left me reflecting for days on the contours of my memory as shaped by taste, smell, touch, and sight, four senses that were constantly strummed throughout our meal.
I’ve always thought that “techno-emotional” was a rather silly term to describe a style of cooking. I still do. But whatever you call it, the Roca’s approach to cooking – their philosophy – made an impression on me that went far beyond the plate, date, and place of our meal. And that is important.
El Celler de Can Roca
Can Sunyer, 48
17007 Girona, Spain
+34 972 222 157
From the street, the villa is hidden behind a high, wooden retaining wall. It’s only after passing through a narrow ramp do you arrive in a private little courtyard with a magnificent view of both villa and annex. You can read more about the restaurant’s design on its website.
The oyster with cava dish has been catalogued by the Rocas as being created in 2005. The cava was thickened with xantham gum, which strangely does not disturb the wine’s carbonation, giving it just enough body to stand up to the meatiness of the oyster.
The sole dish has been catalogued by the Rocas as being created in 2008.
The artichoke with foie gras soup has been catalogued by the Rocas as being created in 1991.
Here's an interesting piece of news from Spain, courtesy of La Vanguardia and eater.com : both the brothers Roca (of El Celler de Can Roca, ranked #2 in the world) and the brothers Adrià (of elBulli and now Tickets and 41 Degrees) are developing new, interdisciplinary concepts they envision as "total gastronomic experiences."
In Roca's case, the plan is to work with the visual artist Fran Aleu to create an igloo-like space adjacent their restaurant in Girona, Spain, where twelve diners will sit around a table to experience a kind of "culinary opera" in twelve acts. There will be video art, as well as different manipulations of smells and colors and sounds. They've already given the idea one test run, and they hope to unveil the project on 12/12/2012. "The more that cooking connects with other disciplines, the better it becomes," said chef Joan Roca. "There is something bold about that dialogue which we should push further."
Joan, Jordi, and Josep are the Roca brothers. The first is ranked among the ten best chefs in the world and is in charge of the savoury dishes, the second is in charge of desserts, and the third manages a wine cellar containing 1,200 references. Located in Catalonia perched on the Girona mountains, these brothers propose a special cuisine bridging the gaps between tradition and innovations, the past and the present, and complexity with simplicity. Three brothers with three stars committed to continual experiments on aromas and flavours.
Despite their visibly contemporary cooking methods, what counts is the proximity. First with the family. Not one day goes past without Joan, Josep, and Jordi proclaiming, loud and clear, the legacy of their parents working-class cooking, with the original tavern next door still serving a "workers" menu. To better understand this vocational transfer, Joan, the "oven king" does not hesitate to admit being directly inspired by his mother's recipes … or how her Russian salad, once the olive cream is spherized and the vegetables emulsified, becomes a fine green olive pie … condensed flavours and memories which allow the oldest Roca to write a genuine ode to their mother's culinary affinity. It's touching and moving, even if the aim is clearly proclaimed by the author of this avant-gardist poem of wanting to immediately enthral your senses - this Pie is the 5th dish listed on the menu, which has 14. Joan explains: "Our cooking appeals, first and foremost, to memories. Throughout all the technical research we've done, it always comes down to rewriting our past, as well as that of the family and Catalonia, and then transcribing all these impressions and emotions." Josep adds, "We still go and eat once a week at our parents just because our mother's cooking keeps our head on our shoulders."
What a family!
So there you have it for family proximity, but Ferran Adrià is the best at describing the Roca. "The Roca? It's one entity, a one and the same force, a real family," sums up this friend and neighbor who lives a stones throw from Girona on the Catalonia side. So there's proximity again, but not a bothersome one. Furthermore, it's with Ferran Adrià that Joan learned to conceptualize traditional Catalonian cuisine on a contemporary technical basis. And Josep finishes off by saying, "He is a great professional and a friend who is really part of the family."
Basically, we understand that using traditional basics, boosted by techniques and a personal outlook regarding olfaction, the Roca brothers form a compact, creative pool as if being one and the same person. "A sort of three-headed chef," sums up Josep smiling. In fact the number 3 is much more than the simple signature indicated on the restaurant's logo: an R with three legs. Here, the number 3 obviously represents a real life philosophy based on a strong bonding for a common project … The restaurant's architecture takes all 3 into consideration, built in a triangular shape.
This layout is obviously not accidental, and it creates a unique environment for a culinary theatre enactment cast by the Trois Fantastiques!
Perfumes in Catalonia
Behind all this scenery, the Roca really work together, each taking turns contributing their ideas to the vast family olfactory experimentation area opened five years ago. There is the work done on perfumes - Dior, Chanel, Mugler, and now Hermès - recently taken over by Jordi, that of the "smoked" aromas managed in parallel by Joan, and not forgetting the specific research by Josep on the volatility of aromas, making the Celler de Can Roca one of the most advanced and specialized places for olfaction. Except for here, the technical complexities set-up never stop the immediacy of the fragrances and tastes. It's true that the three brother's kitchen often resembles a nuclear physics laboratory. Yes, Joan uses a Rotaval to extract the most subtle aromas of musk, undergrowth, and even soil … Yes, Jordi and Joan work with low and high temperature distillers and savour concentrators. No, this does not mean their cooking is intricate.
On the contrary. There are certain moments when it looks as though the three "J's" just want to wring this machine's neck. As if it was trying to minimize the excessive technicization to better boost tradition into the future.
Tasting in Girona!
A good choice would be the fine Capuccino with chestnuts and truffles, served - you got it! -right after the infamous olive pie of the Roca mother. Intensely aromatic (Josep's touch) and yet so simple and tasty … a real autumn stroll in the woods. A mere whiff makes you feel you could be gathering all the ingredients. And a Kastanienbusch 2002, a wonderful German Riesling, is presented to play on the right taste buds. The same for the Cep Soufflé presented under a dome which preciously guards pine-wood smoke (Joan is perhaps hiding under it!). A flour and egg-free soufflé but with 99% of ceps. What else? Maybe a glass of Penedès. Yes, okay, but then a Nun 2005 Vinya dels Taus, the one recommended by Josep. A Catalonian gem using the same grape variety as the renowned Cava.
The plates are again placed for the Chablis oyster, a dish a little more complex, but always just as tasteful, whose purpose is to portray all the aromas. The whole plate breathes in Chablis. The truffle is there for the mineral aspect, the green apple draws out the plant colours, etc … the scent of soil and humus is present, and what is more, tiny Chablis sweets are hidden at the bottom of the plate … so let's raise a glass - of Chablis of course - to inhale the fragrances and check everything is there. And guess what? Nothing is missing. Then you taste, the palate touched with a hint of minerals and vanilla, with the mineral finish making you realize that the plate's contents completely resemble the bottle. It is often a question as to why Josep is not a wine-maker. And before even having finished asking this ridiculous question, the answer becomes obvious. It suddenly becomes clear how his work on the wines is all part of this unusually reigning harmony so characteristic of the Roca kitchen.
More than a mere sommelier, Josep Roca is more a purveyor. Purveyor of aromas, separating the good from the bad just like grains in ryegrass. He is a purveyor of ideas from one brother to the next. A purveyor of emotions for guests. Conjuring tricks with no secrets. Josep and his brothers know how to share their unique culinary rhetoric. A quality which makes the Celler de Can Roca an inviting restaurant, open to the world and a taste laboratory void of any pretentiousness or exterior signs of wealth - just that of a natural elegance.
EntreChefs.co.uk - Laurent Feneau
The morning on the day of my lunch at El Celler de Can Roca I woke up with a headache. I had suffered from food poisoning for 24 hours but was determined that if I could make the headache go away, then I would get out of bed and get ready to head it off towards Girona. I couldn’t bear the thought of being just 1,5 hour’s away from El Celler de Can Roca and missing the opportunity to dine at the restaurant. After all, I had been looking forward to this lunch for more than two months.
I took an aspirin and after an hour I felt like a new human being and so grateful that the pain in my head had passed. The weather was sunny, blue sky and warm – like Danish summer. The perfect day.
Driving through the Catalan landscape with good old pop music on the radio cleared my mind and provided me with plenty of time to feel totally excited of all the great food that was waiting for me. Three Michelin stars and the world’s 4th best restaurant by Restaurant Magazine can’t be a bad experience, can it? The few moments before actually entering a fine dining place like El Celler de Can Roca is almost the best part of it all and makes me feel like I need to pinch myself in the arm to ensure that I’m not just dreaming it.
When my friends and I arrived, the restaurant was full except from two or three tables. The dining room – actually the entire restaurant – is amazing and absolutely beautiful. There’s something very light and pure about the architecture and it had a calming and relaxing affect on me.
The view from my seat.
I accepted the offer of a glass of Cava and the waiter rolled in the wine library. Literally, the books for reds, whites and sweet wines are being transported on a wooden trolley. While I was browsing the white wines the nibbles came. They were excellent! But for the wine I ultimately asked the sommelier for a couple of wines by the glass as I was a little worried how my tummy and body would react after my sickness.
We all opted for the feast menu and in addition ordered the oyster dish because it wasn’t part of the feast.
First nibble presented an olive tree of caramelized olives stuffed with anchovies inside and coated in a crispy sugar-layer. Then followed:
Rocallis 05 Can Ràfols del Caus D.O. Penedès
…and pot au feu broth
Oysters with Agusti Torello cava, apple compote, ginger, pineapple, lemon confit and spices
Cava was poured over it and added a nice sparkling sensation to it. We were told to first eat the oyster leaf and then the oyster. The oyster had this wonderful dry surface and absolutely perfect mellow texture and offered superb quality. The taste was excellent and delicate and the spices of ginger and pineapple were not dominating the delicious oyster. The whole thing reminded me of the shell fish I tried at the Flemish Primitives last year (where also the Can Roca brothers took part, by the way) and where I watched a presentation of a method of preserving food by a high pressure.
“Escalivada” with anchovies and smoke of ember
This looks like ravioli but were in reality small balls or bonbons. The outer skin had a great leathery texture and soft inside. They arrived under a bowl filled with smoke which infused the air around me when lifted. A nice dish playing with texture and taste.
Artichoke, foie gras, orange and truffle oil
The foie gras was layered on top of the Jerusalem artichoke puree. The two full and rich flavours suited each other perfectly. I loved this dish.
Charcoal-grilled king prawn with acidulated mushrooms juice
The prawn was tasty however I don’t think this dish did stand out in any way. At El Poblet I got a very similar thing and this might be why it didn’t impress me that much.
Onion soup, Crespià walnuts and Comté cheese
Next followed an excellent and intense onion soup. In the middle of the plate the Albert Adria-sponge was replacing the classic crouton. Nice touch.
While the sole represented beauty I would have like the dish to be more elaborate. The different sauces could to me have been more integrated with the grilled fish.
To my frustration I stated to feel full at this point, and my not liking the sole so much could very well be caused by it. It was way to early to loos appetite as 7 courses were still to come.
Baby squids with onion rocks
The sole was followed by the most astonishing and fantastic squid dish I have ever tried. The tiny baby squid pieces were so tender that they hardly resembled squid. The juice was delicate too and had a touch of langoustine note to it, as far as I recall.
Nelin 08 René Barbier D.O.Q.a Priorat
This white Priorat is one of my treasured memories of Spanish white wine. Even though the oak was a little too dominating to my typical taste, I still really liked this white Grenache-based wine. The palate offered a mineral note to it and was fruity and very powerful.
Red mullets with suquet (Catalan seafood stew) and lard
The fish was delicious and the small potato drops was extremely good, soft and creamy. But again like with the sole I missed something with this dish and wished that it had been more elaborate. Had I only got either the sole or this red mullet then perhaps I wouldn’t have felt this way, but only welcomed a more simple serving for a change.
2002 Marques De Grinon, (Cabernet Sauvignon)
Steak tartar with mustard ice cream
Spiced tomato, caper compote, pickles and lemon, hazelnut praline, meat bearnaise sauce, Oloroso-sherry raisin, chives, Sichuan pepper, Pimentón de La Vera (D.O.) smoked paprika and curry, small scoops of mustard ice cream and mustard leaves
The tartar is one of the Roca’s signature dishes. The tasty meat, the cool and delicate mustard drops and the crunchy yellow puffs with different spice topping made the perfect tartar.
Sierra Mayor Iberian suckling pig, grilled baby onions, melon and beetroot
The feast menu presented lamb but I wasn’t really in the mood for that and had asked for a replacement dish. I got a nicely juicy suckling pig. The skin on top was perfectly crispy – a giant crackling .
To my tummy’s relief we now moved on to the desserts.
The first dessert of this green colourology served as the perfect and refreshing cleanser and break between the savoury and the sweet courses.
Super-delicious and light lemon sorbet which had a texture like something in between of whipped egg-white or a foam. The dessert was accompanied my a small piece of paper with scents of all the elements of the lemon dessert and smelled like a very nice and floral perfume.
Vanilla, caramel, licorice, dried and caramelized black olives
The desserts were awesome. In fact they were so delicious that I suddenly had room in my tummy for all three of them.
Palet d’or, Praline, Yuzu bonbon, Irish coffee Marshmallow, Mont blanc
Time had passed so fast, the light in the restaurant was fading.
Despite the couple of dishes I didn’t like so much, the lunch as a whole impressed. It wasn’t only about the food, everything played very well together. The fact that Can Roca also stimulated my interest in and love for architecture is also an important factor here.
You know, I really felt seduced, sort-off, and all I can think off now is that I NEED to go back as soon as possible and enjoy one of my favourite white Burgundies with the meal. It’s no wonder El Celler de Can Roca’s reputation is highly esteemed.
On our way out we sneaked into the giant wine cellar. Do take an opportunity to do that if you get a chance.
From the backseat of the car (full as hell) on the road back to Barcelona I enjoyed the view to the beautiful and colourful sunset feeling relieved and grateful for this experience.
Thank you all for a wonderful experience!
VeryGoodFood.dk - Trine